Volkswagen Phaeton 3.0 TDI road test report

3.0 TDI

When Volkswagen launched the Phaeton in 2003, it was seen as a bold move. However, there was some method in Volkswagen’s madness: the VW Group also owns Audi (which builds the A8) and Bentley, so the possibility existed for using shared technology and dipping into the parts bins of its sibling brands to build a big luxury car. The reality is that the senior executives who buy these cars – even in these straitened times – are reluctant to spend £45K (or £77K, in the case of the powerful W12 variant) on a car with a VW badge. But that doesn’t mean that the Phaeton is a bad car: far from it.

Road Test Reports Says3 star rating
A front-facing image of the Volkswagen Phaeton

Image number 2 of the Volkswagen PhaetonImage number 3 of the Volkswagen Phaeton

Performance Performance - 3 stars

When the Phaeton was first launched, it came with a range of engines that included 3.2-litre V6 petrol units, V10 diesels and a huge 12-cylinder version. However, when VW revised the model in 2009, its powerplant options were reduced to two – the 443bhp W12 petrol unit remained, joined by a new 3.0-litre common-rail diesel engine producing 237bhp and 369lb-ft of torque. The diesel was the engine fitted to our test car and it proved to be very effective, despite having to shift a 2,233kg car. The V6 engine had plenty of power right from low down in the rev range and was also very quiet and refined, only making any real noise under hard acceleration – and even then the sound was a pleasingly gruff one. The engine is mated to a six-speed tiptronic automatic gearbox, which makes smooth changes in full auto mode and also responds well when the driver decides to change cogs manually.

Ride & Handling Ride & Handling - 3 stars

The Phaeton was built to be a comfortable cruiser to waft senior executive types around, so it’s no surprise that the ride quality is very good. The reason is that the Phaeton uses a continuously damped air suspension system, which ensures that the car can adapt to the type of road it’s riding over. The driver can choose between different suspension settings, but the Sport mode is rather pointless for a car this big and heavy: far better to stick with Comfort, which ensures any imperfections are ironed out without the occupants being exposed to too much discomfort. All Phaetons also come with 4Motion all-wheel drive as standard, so there’s always plenty of grip available. However, it’s not the most agile of cars, its weight really coming into play if you try to change direction quickly and chuck it about in tight bends, where the body roll becomes all too evident.

Build Quality & Reliability Build Quality & Reliability - 4 stars

Volkswagen hasn’t skimped when it comes to building a luxury car that captains of industry will be happy sitting in the back of. There are huge expanses of wood and leather throughout the cabin, to enhance the feeling of quality that is obvious as soon as you approach the car. Everything is solid and well built, with switchgear that feels top-notch – unsurprising, as much of it is shared with Bentley. Volkswagen’s reputation as a carmaker with high standards means that the reliability of the Phaeton is rock-solid: indeed, the Phaeton is benchmarked against some of the best-built cars on the market, so it should be even more reliable than other Volkswagens. VW hasn’t sold many, so the model doesn’t show up in customer satisfaction surveys: however reports from owners do suggest that it is more than holding its own when faced with the rigours of the real world.

Safety & Security Safety & Security - 4 stars

As a large car that sells in relatively low volume, the Phaeton hasn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP. However, its sheer size and bulk means that it’s unlikely to come out worst in an accident. Volkswagen also claims that the structure of the Phaeton makes it one of the world’s safest cars, thanks to a rigid core and numerous safety features built into the body. There’s also a plethora of active and passive safety equipment on board to keep the occupants protected. To help avoid an accident in the first instance there’s ABS anti-lock brakes, ASR (Anti-Slip Regulation), an electronic differential lock, ESP, hydraulic brake assist and EBD (Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution). Plus, there’s the 4Motion four-wheel drive to help keep you out of trouble. Inside, there are eight airbags (two in the front, four in the side, plus two curtain airbags), active head restraints on the front seats, plus three-point seatbelts throughout with pre-tensioners.

Space & Practicality Space & Practicality - 4 stars

The Phaeton is a very big car, so there’s plenty of space in both the front and back – the rear being exceptionally roomy if you opt for the long wheelbase version. The seats are wonderfully cosseting, with a full range of movement in the front, so drivers of any size and shape can find a comfortable position. The rear has the option of four or five seats: if you go for the former, there’s even more space for the back-seat passengers, allowing them to really spread out. Bootspace is also generous, with 500 litres on offer. The Phaeton is packed full of equipment, with an auto-dimming rear view mirror, cruise control, six-CD autochanger, sat nav with 7-inch colour screen, auto-sensing wipers and lights, parking sensors, heated seats and climate control. The one downside of all this equipment is that there are an awful lot of buttons and switches on the dashboard, which can prove to be a distraction.

Ownership & Value Ownership & Value - 2 stars

The Phaeton is a very big car, so it’s never going to be economical to run. The engine might be a diesel, but it’s a V6, so official fuel consumption of 31.4mpg isn’t great – and it’ll be even worse in real-life driving situations. CO2 emissions of 239g/km are also pretty hefty and place the Phaeton in VED Band L, meaning you’ll pay a whopping £405 in road tax. Insurance group 16 also means that premiums won’t be cheap either. But the biggest ownership drawback with the Phaeton is the catastrophic residuals. The resale values for this luxury VW are through the floor: after three years, it’s likely to be worth less than a third of its original cost. However, if you’re looking for a second-hand model, you’re unlikely to find this much car for such little money, making it a great find.

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